Monday, November 11, 2013

Cook a Chicken in the Crock Pot...Easy!

I will honestly and truthfully admit to you that I am no whiz in the kitchen. Food blogger I am not and will never claim to be. But in the name of making life insanely easy for my friends, I am always ready and willing to share something I've done in my kitchen that makes me go, "Why have I not been doing this for YEARS?"

And one of those things, friends, is cooking a whole chicken in your crock pot.

Seriously, so easy. Such a time saver. And such a bang for your buck! It's like win-win-win.

If you happen to pick up a whole chicken on sale at the grocery store, I think there might be no better value out there for your money. For $5 I can get enough meat for three meals, plus countless cups of stock for cooking. Around this time of the year, especially, quick and easy meals are a plus for me, and one day's worth of "work" (and I use that term loosely) cuts out plenty of weeknight work preparing dinner.

And now, friends, I'll share how easy it is--both to cook the chicken and make plenty of stock for any of your culinary whiz needs.

If you're cooking the chicken and making the stock, you'll need your crock pot for about 18 hours, give or take an hour or two depending on how your crock pot cooks.

First you'll want to rinse off your chicken and take out the little baggie of chicken insides. Toss it or save it for other cooking purposes. If you're my mother, throwing out the neck and all those other little birdie parts are equally as important as the bird itself and throwing it out is a sin. But if you're me, you wouldn't know what to do with them so they get thrown out. To each their own.

I'll also add an aside in here that my husband is completely freaked out by the idea of a whole chicken. As I was rinsing it in its little chicken bath in my sink, he couldn't help but say, "Look, it's swimming away!" and was completely grossed out. Also, resist the urge to chase him around with the chicken, because you'll literally have to disinfect every square inch of your kitchen when you're done, but I got a kick out of his squeamishness around the chicken nonetheless.

Lesson learned: keep most of your chicken prep to one area of your kitchen to keep the clean up/disinfecting to a minimum.

Once your chicken is nice and rinsed, you'll want to pat it dry with some paper towels. Take your seasonings and create a rub.

You can use whatever strikes your fancy or your needs, but I use salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, onion power, thyme, and rosemary, parsley and a little bit of olive oil to help it bind together.

Rub your seasonings all over your chicken. If you're leaving the skin on, make sure to rub it under the skin as well as over top. Personally, I leave the skin on because the meat tends to be a little more moist when I do, but leaving the skin on means adding a little more fat. Again, to each their own. You'll also rub some seasoning into the cavity of your chicken.

Add four or five balls of foil to the bottom of your crock pot. This keeps your chicken from sitting in its own fat as it cooks. You won't need to add water; the drippings from the cooking chicken will be enough.

Rest your chicken on top of the foil balls breast side down, cover, and cook on low for 8 hours.

And when it's done:

As you can see, I proooobably could have taken this out a little sooner since my poor little chicken split along the top and was more than falling apart before I took it out of the crock pot. Just make sure your chicken is cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees to be safe.

Another aside: what is it about cooking with a crock pot that automatically means whatever you make comes out looking not-so-pretty? I don't think I've ever made something with my crock pot that looked super visually appealing when it was done. Further proof that I will never be a food blogger: no pretty "after" photos.

Once the chicken is cooled, shred it and portion out based on your needs. I usually get enough meat for three meals. The best part is that it freezes beautifully and all you have to do is remember to take it out of the freezer to thaw for dinner. Best. Ever.

This time, when I made my chicken, I knew I needed it to also pull double duty. We are hosting Thanksgiving for the first time this year, and the planner in me had made my menu and shopping list during the last week of October. I knew I'd need at least 12 cups of chicken stock for the recipes and the crowd I was planning, so I used this opportunity to make some of my own with what I already had and avoid the need for the canned stuff when the time came.

To do this, you can actually start prepping while your chicken cooks. You'll need to chop up on onion, carrot, and celery and add some thyme, salt, pepper, and garlic. I add it all to a bag and store it in the fridge until I need it.

I didn't have celery this time around, but if you're missing an ingredient, it really won't hurt. The veggies help give an extra boost of vitamins and flavor to your stock.

Once you've shredded and picked over your chicken, throw the bones back into the crock pot and add your veggies and seasoning. Add water to your crock pot, cover, and set to cook on low for 10 hours. This is great to do right before you go to bed and when you wake up it'll be finished. It'll be like you slaved for hours, but actually got your beauty sleep instead.

Once it's cool, strain the liquid from the bones and veggies and portion the stock into freezer bags. Throw them into the freezer until you need them. I usually freeze them in one cup portions, but you can freeze them in whatever portion works best for you. To be safe, I would throw out any unused frozen stock after three months.

I got 15 cups of stock from my last crock pot chicken adventure. More than enough for Turkey Day, plus some to have on hand for meal planning, wahoo!

I really don't think there's anything easier. You could cook your chicken while you're at the office on a Friday, make your stock overnight, and then take a few minutes on Saturday morning to portion out your stock. Three nights of dinner and cups of a pantry staple at the ready after a few minutes of prep work and some time in your crock pot.

And for $5, you really can't beat that.

Do you have any money saving tips for the kitchen? Feel free to share in the comments!

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